For the past while, I’ve been thinking about writing spaces, about a writer’s optimal writing space. I don’t know that every writer has one, but I’m willing to bet we all do. It behooves us to take the time to sort out what physical space we need in order to produce. We have to sort out what is the poser in us, that might list all sorts of esoteric eclectic elite requirements and situations, all to make us seem like writers, while the real writers around know it’s all a scam, an avoidance technique. They know it because they’ve tried it themselves, many times.
Arthur Rimbaud needed light and a desk. Period. William and Dorothy Wordsworth needed to walk. Jane Austen seemingly needed a pen and paper, since she wrote surrounded by people in the living areas of her house. What solitude? The Bronte sisters (all three: Charlotte, Emily, and Anne) needed each other as audience and wrote novels as part of their conversation. Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg employed a smorgasbord of barbiturates and alcohol and marijuana. I don’t recommend it.
What I’m wondering is this: when we say we need to go sit on a mountaintop or at the seaside in order to write, are we stalling? Deceiving ourselves? We might all agree that it would be nice to go to the mountains or the seaside, and these surely can be inspirational places. But as I sit here on a mountaintop, I know that I could accomplish at home what I’m accomplishing here. It’s a discipline issue. I know that what I need in order to work in a sustained way is solitude and a block of time, and unless I announce in a loud voice that I am off-line for X number of weeks, the day-to-day keeps coming at me, and I am unable to ignore it. I need the world to co-operate, and it doesn’t. Being here in the studio is a blessed thing, and I know it’s a privilege.
Here, I don’t have to make my bed and clean my bathroom. There are no meetings–sorry, I’m out of town–and no little errands. If I could learn to lie (say I’m out of town, but not go) and live in a mess, I could stay home, sleep in my own bed, have every shred of research in reach. What I need, in terms of optimal writing space, is solitude and separateness. I accept it. I am not going to think that if Austen could write during family hours, I should, too. I can’t. I am not going to think to myself that a little squalor wouldn’t be so bad. It would. So, I take myself away to the mountain or the midlands or the islands. If the prophets needed the desert, the mountains, the wilderness, who am I to argue?